Bishop Guli's Blog, Talks and Publications

Authentic improvisation

Good morning. There’s been a story in the press recently, including an interview on this programme, about Australia’s so called first piano - an instrument that sailed there along with the first settlers. It’s now being restored to its former glory, in time for the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in Australia. Inevitably, the 18th century piano bears the scars of time, travel and varying degrees of indignity that its suffered. The aim now is to give it back its original voice – its authentic sound - through a painstaking process of repair and renovation, providing a link with our musical past and helping better understand how things have changed.

This quest for authenticity has always been important for me both in how I live life and navigate my way through faith. It involves knowing what my roots, as an Iranian Christian are, and recognising the things that have shaped me, as well as being open to new ways of understanding and of being. Authenticity is not about adhering to certain doctrinal formulas nor about believing and doing exactly as I choose. Faith is about a relationship with God that covers a vast expanse between certainty at one end and doubt at the other. The foundations of this territory are described well by the late Michael Mayne, one time dean of Westminster Abbey. He talks of discovering the enduring melodies of faith, truths which lie deep at the centre, around which other melodies and harmonies dance and develop – in musical terms this is the cantus firmus, the ground base, which remains unchanged whilst allowing for experiment and improvisation.
In Christian terms, for me, the enduring melodies are about God’s abiding love shown through the person of Jesus; and about the vision of working towards a more just society on earth whilst waiting for that eternal kingdom beyond death. 
How such ideas are understood and articulated will change over time, other melodies will provide variety and richness, intertwining, fading in and out. But as is the case in the church and indeed other great traditions and institutions the authentic voice remains as the one which is steadfast, anchoring all else.
In the end of course, there’s no blue print and each person must discover their own enduring melodies – the themes that sustain through the complexities of life, giving meaning and hope, both in good times and bad. But to live as authentic human beings our enduring melodies are likely to connect us to the past, be mindful of present reality and open to new possibilities for the future. 

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